Pubdate: Sat, 05 Nov 2005
Source: Journal Gazette, The (IN)
Copyright: 2005 The Journal Gazette
Author: Sylvia A. Smith, Washington editor
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Leavitt Accused of Obstructing the War on Meth

WASHINGTON -- A member of President Bush's Cabinet blocked a plan for
dealing with the country's meth epidemic by dragging his feet, Rep.
Mark Souder, R-3rd, said Friday. He accused Michael Leavitt, secretary
of Health and Human Services, of behind-the-scenes maneuvering to slow
or stop congressional action on a bill to restrict the sale of an
ingredient used to make methamphetamine.

A spokeswoman for Leavitt strongly denied Souder's accusations and
said he has wrong information.

Souder said Leavitt "is of the soft-on-drugs cluster" and said
journalists should "ask if he's tied in with the pharmaceutical
industry so close that he won't let us get a pseudoephedrine bill." He
did not offer any evidence about a linkage between Leavitt and the
pharmaceutical industry.

Leavitt is "not soft on drugs," HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson
said. "Under him, we have been promoting a balanced approach
emphasizing prevention, treatment, supply reduction."

She said Souder's implication of a linkage between Leavitt and the
pharmaceutical industry is "so wrong it doesn't even warrant a
response. It's absolutely false. He is not tied in in any way."

Souder made his claims at a hearing called to discuss whether the
country is prepared for the avian flu and in an interview after the
hearing. Leavitt did not reply to Souder's criticisms at the hearing.

Souder said Leavitt did such a poor job of coping with the meth
epidemic that it's doubtful the department can plan for a possible
bird flu pandemic.

"As this destructive epidemic was spreading, Congress was constantly
asking the administration for a national plan to address this
epidemic, but it was the HHS secretary who was dragging his feet,"
Souder said at the hearing.

In an interview, Souder said he could not publicly discuss why he
blames Leavitt for the administration's "embarrassingly minimalist"
anti-meth strategy.

"In the administration, Leavitt was the single big problem and has
been the problem from the beginning. We have now fingered where our
problem is, and that's why I let him have it," Souder said.

Souder is a leading voice about the dangers of meth. He is the
chairman of a subcommittee that oversees U.S. anti-drug policies and
has proposed legislation to limit the sale of pseudoephedrine. He has
frequently criticized the Bush administration for not being more
aggressive about meth.

The status of Souder's legislation was uncertain early Friday evening,
but he called Leavitt "an invisible hand" in preventing the bill from
being added to a must-pass spending bill.

The administration anti-meth plan, unveiled in August, would limit
consumers to 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine -- the equivalent of about
110 pills -- in a single purchase. It would not require that cold
medicines be sold from behind pharmacy counters. It would provide
$16.2 million for meth treatment programs in seven states.

Souder's bill focuses on wholesale importers of pseudoephedrine to
make sure it is not sold to meth-makers instead of pharmaceutical
companies that make cold medicines.

Like the administration's proposal, Souder's bill would limit
individual purchases and not require cold remedies to be behind
pharmacy counters.

Souder said Leavitt was the barrier to a more effective anti-meth
policy but said he could not explain in clear detail why he made that
accusation. But he noted that the Department of Health and Human
Services "sponsored a conference that said (the meth epidemic) is a
myth.   I have additional information from multiple sources that
suggests (he is) one of the people who have been tying Walters'
hands." John Walters is the Bush administration's drug czar.

Pearson said Leavitt "is leading a department that has been taking the
lead on fighting drug abuse. I am especially disappointed that Rep.
Souder has received incorrect information relating to the assertion
that HHS is a barrier. The secretary is not a barrier."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake